Much of last year’s debate surrounding Proposition 64, California’s marijuana legalization initiative, focused on consumption-side issues: the acceptability of recreational drug use, the possibility of impaired driving and traffic fatalities, potential exposure to and impact on youth, legal penalties and equity in the criminal justice system, and tax revenue from retail sales. Production-side issues received less scrutiny, probably because they aren’t as salient in the everyday life of the average Californian. You might have a strong opinion about who is smoking what on the highway or at your kid’s school, but you’re less likely to be thinking about what’s growing in the forests and fields around the Bay Area and beyond. Maybe you should, though — Prop 64’s passage last November has the potential to literally change the landscape of the Golden State.
The negative impacts of illegal marijuana cultivation have been well documented: watershed depletion, pesticide pollution, soil erosion, and even the occasional wildfire. Legalization will enable regulatory action to curtail such impacts, although that assumes illegal growing operations will decline in a post-Prop 64 world. They very well may not, as some pot farmers may choose to ignore the permitting process required by the new law. What does seem certain, however, is that the overall amount of marijuana cultivation will increase, meaning intensified demand for land. Even before the proposition passed, speculators were scrambling to acquire real estate in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, an area renown for its optimal marijuana growing conditions. And now that legalization is a done deal, we can expect a lot more deals will get done — some right here in our own backyard.
How should the Bay Area open space community prepare for the impending historic shift that will occur when the state begins issuing licenses to grow on January 1? The answers remain hazy. But in an effort to clarify them, the Bay Area Open Space Council is convening a public forum, with speakers from the California Growers Association, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and the Conservation Strategy Group. The event will happen next Thursday, September 28 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the David Brower Center in Berkeley. Registration and further details may be found here.